Archived entries for Review

Review: Furtive Tears by Niamh McCann at The Hugh Lane Gallery by Brendan Fox (ACW)

A New Occult and Encounters with the Invisible Man

A review of Furtive Tears, 4 October 2018 – 6 January 2019 by Niamh McCann at The Hugh Lane Gallery, Dublin, 2018.

Rodin's The Age of Bronze AKA The Awakening Man AKA The Vanquished One (masked) - Box Steel Frame, Walnut Burl Veneer Panel, Painted Panel, nuts and bolts, The Age of Bronze by Auguste Rodin from Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane’s collection - 2018.Photo Credit: Ruarí Conaty.

Occultation; n. (Astronomy); The passage of a celestial object across the line of sight between an observer and another celestial object; as when the moon moves between the Earth and the sun in a solar eclipse.

Beckoning us through ghostly operatic echoes as we ascend the stoic neoclassical staircase of the Hugh Lane Gallery, McCann’s video work Furtive Tears, Salomé’s Lament eventually drenches us in
an opulent fusion of Richard Strauss’s Salomé and Donizetti’s Una Furtiva Lagrima from here the hybridism of language and landscape becomes only more strange.

An imposing screen seduces us. Boris, a suited man, appears to await our arrival and scales the grandiose marble staircase of Belfast City Hall in a pair of red high heels. In a duo of impassioned tableau vivant’s he mimics the stance of Sir Edward Carson’s statue, situated at Stormont Castle, Belfast, followed by the Jim Larkin monument on O’Connell Street, just meters away. Both prominent twentieth century political figures immortalised in a state of dramatic public address. Outside the gallery they tower over contemporary cities fraught with new political uncertainties, their power redundant, their bodies now relics cast in silence. McCann breathes a last breath into their predominance and within it gives us space to reassess our own position in relation to both historic and contemporary power structures.
In the following scene we follow Boris’s continued ascension as he scales the Ridge View of Black Mountain leaving Belfast city behind having swapped his suit for a panda costume. Still wearing his red shoes, we witness him meandering through dewy grass, climbing fences and encountering mildly inconvenienced cows. He again mimics these political ghosts but this time the man is hidden, masked, he has become a cartoon. The dramatic inhabitance of these two iconic statues becomes a pathetic historical indistinct echo falling on deaf ears. We see his physical intentions without the details of expression, he is present but not apparent, something has passed between us and him obscuring our perspective, our reality.

This notion of occultation is pushed further in the adjoining gallery as we encounter our third immortalised male figure in a work wryly entitled The Age of Bronze AKA The Awakening Man AKA The Vanquished One (masked) pertaining to Rodin’s multi named bronze cast male figure (1876-77), a piece from the Hugh Lane Collection. McCann encases the gallery’s own Age of Bronze in a sharp green box frame, his head and upper body obscured with two panels, one blue the other a walnut burl veneer. This is a mongrel of the opposing sides of modernism but beyond its formal and art historical loft dwells a new space for interpretation. Through McCann’s geometric addition the figure of the naked bronze solider appears vulnerable, even caged. As the linear mechanism contrasts with the details and curvatures of his lower anatomy a palpable intimacy develops, yet he cannot “see” us, he is a pawn in a statement, to be looked at but not fully engaged with.

These historic male statues and monuments bare a contemporary vulnerability. McCann is redistributing notions of power and how we perceive it. She confidently harnesses these icons like a child might put batteries in an old toy and asks us to look again. Paradoxically there is a sense of the prophetic here, these historic regurgitations feel immediate and succeed through McCann’s ubiquitous intentions, her place amid the current socio-political zeitgeist and our own conception of the dawning of a new order.

In another gallery a taxidermied fawn towers above us, its head suffocated with a zipped black balloon, its fore limbs extended to its rear with black curved rods as it precariously sits, like a rocking horse, atop a box frame plinth, containing a dangling umbilical-esque blue neon tube light. From a height a pair of white voile drapes partially veil the rich blue walls before theatrically pouring to the floor surrounding an offering of fresh lilies, their fragrance inhabiting the space in a sharp organic sweetness as if Salomé herself was present, seducing us, dancing the Seven Veils amid this mise-en- scène tempered with sacrifice, vulnerability and power. These works lean on us as viewers to decipher what we do not see, or what McCann chooses to occult; they deftly summon forth the invisible. In the same room a large bronze nose cast from Seamus Murphy’s marble bust of Michael Collins (1949), another work from the Hugh Lane Collection, sits on a faux classical plinth, faceless, ironically pointing at a second green pedestal with a pair of destroyed aviator sunglasses. The monumental male is almost invisible now, surviving only by a nose, snorting contemporary air, like a man drowning in history or to quote Salomé in “black lakes troubled by fantastic moons.”

Art critic Rosalind Krauss writes of the logic of sculpture as being inseparable from the logic of the monument, “It sits in a particular place and speaks in a symbolical tongue about the meaning or use of that place”. McCann’s landscape of artefacts is profoundly routed in the space it inhabits; it is of the institution and rebels tangibly and intellectually within that frame. It is quite literally a Trojan horse, it is a series interventional contraptions concealing rebels and soldiers.

Here Salomé no longer dances alone under the gaze of men McCann’s ideas head bang alongside her, amid the Hugh Lane collection, like their parents have gone out of town. Furtive Tears is a spiky romantic affair it confronts us with fact and fiction, real and faux. Like Parrhasius’s curtain the perceived occultation is the work. As McCann’s objects pass between us and the past they momentarily eclipse history and in that darkness dwells a new constellation offering us portals into the alternative, interrogating socio-political shifts and arguing the legitimacy of the relics of politics and art, placing us at the centre of our own truths and preconceived ideas of our idiosyncratic place in story that is history.

Brendan Fox is an artist, curator, film maker and writer living in Dublin, he is currently studying MA Art in the Contemporary World, NCAD

The Eagles And The Stone: A Review by Marie Soffe

Marie Soffe reviews a recent exhibition of work by Bláthnaid Ní Mhurchú that took place at the Avenue Road Gallery in Dublin during March 2013.

This morning, some Jehovah’s Witnesses dropped a leaflet through my letterbox inviting me to a talk entitled ‘What happens after death?’. By coincidence, Bláthnaid Ní Mhurchú claims that deep, profound questions on this very issue lie at the heart of the work in her recent solo exhibition, The Eagles and the Stone, curated by Jennette Donnelly. Whether these questions are immediately obvious in the work I’m not so sure, but then I have to confess at the outset that I have always found Ní Mhurchú’s work difficult to understand. However, this is not such a bad place from which to start writing, and attentive looking and listening on my part have opened little chinks into this artist’s fascinating and complex world. Continue reading…

Nina Canell and Fergus Feehily – Review

Maeve-Ann Austen reviews the recent exhibitions by Nina Canell and Fegus Feehily at the Douglas Hyde Gallery.

The Douglas Hyde is a great space. It really is. It acts as both facilitator and imposter, in both equal and opposite amounts. It not only allows the exhibits placed within it a grace of space and a let out of time, but also adds to the work, impressing its architecture on everything that sits within it. Once you have descended the concrete staircase, and left the hubbub of the Trinity students above, you are aware of entering the “other”, with the clear possibility that anything might happen. In other words, The Douglas Hyde as a space makes most things look good. This is of real benefit to Nina Canell’s exhibition, Tendrils, that was recently showing in Gallery 1 of The Douglas Hyde.

At first the artist’s use of space is somewhat panic inducing. The pieces when deciphered are sparsely placed within the gallery, causing the viewer to feel an exposure and pressure to glean something, from what seems like nothing. However, once you begin to acclimatise to the exiguous aesthetics, you see that Cannell uses space (as a musician might use silence) as an instrument.

Pieces On Thirst (Bells), and Of Air truly benefit from the spatial freedom they are allowed. Of Air holds the space afforded to it with almost a patriarchal stance. Its form, a large perspex jar on a high wood table, gives a point of orbit for the rest of the exhibition. This allows the more ethereal pieces a point of stable reference. The hair-like copper wire within Gallery 1 floats as if it could be part of the building, but on a second look the effect is of something much more fantastical and otherworldly. This juxtaposition of the everyday and the sublime provides the viewer with the vast possibilities of combinations within the material world. As a result it is a shame that Waiting For A Spark is shown in another part of the gallery. The piece, which consists of coagulated air and a weathered piece of wood, if positioned within the main area of the exhibition would create a real cohesion of idea. Impulse Slight, on the surrounding walls within the main gallery, frames the rest of the exhibit. The uniformity of the watermelon seeds, but also their notable differences, feed into the numerous combinations and possibilities that one medium can give.

The fly in the ointment is Affinity Units. With its inclusion of copper piping, halogen lights and breezeblock-like-rocks, it brings the exhibition from its flighty wonder, back down to quite an ugly reality. This is a shame. The charm and promise of the other pieces are jarred by the industrial qualities of the work, which skews the concentration of the exhibition as a whole. As it stands, the pieces in themselves are quite beautiful, and have a fragility that really awakens the viewer, but as an exhibition it does not read as a distilled and reassured concept.

In contrast in Gallery 2, Fergus Feehily exhibits work that is both poised and purposeful. The womb-like room is a much smaller and intimate setting for The Paradise [37], an installation consisting of five small card shaped works, a slide projector displaying images, and a larger framed work. The installation in general has a celebratory tone. The smaller pieces with their bright, sweet wrapper like collage have a child like wonder, which is mirrored in the abstract, yet utterly familiar projections on the adjacent wall. The images shown on the projector, though abstract, seem deeply personal, like vivid snapshots of old memories. The photographs, which range from block colour to reminiscences of a family home, coupled with the constant sound of the slide projector, add a warmth and life that would otherwise be lacking. The sum is something that feels almost haphazard, and yet you know that everything has been agonized over, down to the right shade of grey for the walls (which it is, by the way, not too light, not too dark and warm enough to be comfortable).

The only slight irritant is the larger work, River River, hung on the opposite wall to the five smaller works. Though a beautiful piece, all muted fuchsia streaks, like lipstick an aunt might leave on a coffee cup and framed as if it had been hanging in your grannies front room for the last 15 years, it is doing something very different to the other parts of the installation. In a space as small as Gallery 2, it is unneeded to introduce a third element to this exhibit, and it distracts the viewers’ gaze from the other two aspects. Yet the exhibition is still utterly successful, with the added extra of the sound created by the slide projector. Even reaching the top of the stairs to rejoin the throng of Trinity students, you can hear it rolling from picture to picture, like waves on a Wicklow beach visited in your youth.

Maeve-Ann Austen is an ACW participant.

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